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Defence Committee Chair Says UK Must Take In "At Least" Tens Of Thousands Of Afghan Refugees

4 min read

Defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood has told PoliticsHome that Britain will need to accept “at least” tens of thousands of Afghan asylum seekers fleeing the Taliban.

The former British army captain’s statement comes as shocking videos circulating social media capture desperate Afghans dangling off US-bound aircrafts trying to depart Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Boris Johnson is yet to announce how many asylum seekers the UK will take in beyond those applying for residency under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, which only applies to “current or former locally employed staff assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life”.

However, cross-party pressure is mounting on the government to detail how will handle an impending refugee crisis.

On Friday last week Canada’s Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced the country would resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including human rights workers, journalists and female leaders.

Chancellor Angela Merkel today revealed Germany could take in as many as 10,000 vulnerable people.

Ellwood believed there was an international responsibility for those fleeing Taliban persecution. “Because of our departure from Afghanistan, we’re now prompting a massive migration crisis, which requires us to review our policy on receiving asylum seekers from Afghanistan," he told PoliticsHome.

“In noting what Canada and Germany have done, all NATO countries who participated in Afghanistan need to work together to coordinate efforts in order to facilitate arrival of what will be hundreds of thousands of families fleeing the country.”

Ellwood added that it is too early to put an exact figure on the number of refugees the UK should take in, as this risks dragging the country into a “bidding war”.

However, the former minister said the number should and will be “at least” in the tens of thousands”.

“All the countries that were involved have a duty and an obligation to provide safe haven, given where we’ve left the country”, he said.  

Today the Liberal Democrats confirmed to PoliticsHome that they will call for at least 20,000 Afghans to be resettled in the UK, in line with Canada’s pledge.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said: “There are tens of thousands of Afghans who will be anxious and panicked about what their future holds under the barbaric regime of the Taliban.

“Many will simply find it too unsafe for them and their families to remain in Afghanistan. They will want to escape, and Britain must not turn its back on them now. That is why we are calling on the government to resettle at least 20,000 Afghan refugees.

“Britain has a long and proud history of providing sanctuary to those who need it most, and we must exercise that same compassion today.”

Conservative MP Damian Green has called on the government to take in “anyone who can make a case”.

Green tweeted: “There are times and places where we should be strict with asylum applications. Afghanistan today is the exact opposite. We should take anyone who can make a case.”

Labour MP Zarah Sultana has similarly called for “immediate unconditional amnesty for Afghan asylum seekers already in the UK” as well as “safe, open routes for refugees”.

The Labour leadership is still considering the number of vulnerable people, beyond those eligible for ARAP, it would like to see offered asylum in Britain, PoliticsHome understands.

However, sources said the party hopes to see a coordinated international agreement, with every country stepping up to help those fleeing persecution.

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